Today we are going to bring you an in depth summary of the new book “The Confident Mind: A Battle Tested Guide To Unshakable Performance” by Doctor N. Zinsser.
The book was written by the man who directed one of the most influential performance psychology programs, who coached super bowl MVP’s, and many other high level professionals.
Review & Criticism
Dr Zinsser believes that confidence is the key to performance at the highest level. This book was written to teach you how to develop this skill in a simple step by step manner. It relies on science, testing, and his experiences.
The book does a great job illustrating his principles with stories. He usually gives a story and then a principle. That is often followed by specific questions or steps you can take to apply that idea. You are left at the end of each chapter with a clear understanding of what is being said.
It also makes some references to the science, usually through quotes or him summarizing a scientific principle. We did feel that the book was a little light in this category. There are quotes and supporting ideas behind much of what he said, but it would have been nice to have heard more. It should be noted that this low to medium density of scientific reference isn’t abnormal in relation to the typical self help book.
Overall you will like the book if you enjoy story based learning with a smattering of science summarized. You will walk away with an simple and effective system for improving your confidence. He makes the process seem quite applicable, attainable, and believable. He covers all the areas and questions you ask as you read the book.
You won’t like this book if you are expecting a detailed and heavily scientific exposition on the research associated with confidence. The book is thorough and exhaustive in the story portions but not the science. There are studies and qualified sources referenced, but they are just referenced. There aren’t many bullet point lists at the end of the chapter if you want to quickly get to the meat of his points. Additionally you won’t like the book much if you are anti positive psychology. He relies heavily on positive psychology for much of the book.
Chapter By Chapter Summary
Introduction: What Confidence Is and Isn’t
You must believe in yourself and be totally confident in order to perform at your highest level. If you don’t, you will hesitate and make mistakes. Thinking hesitant thoughts will interfere with your perception, your response, and your movements.
You can be confident with out being conceited or arrogant. Confidence is “a sense of certainty about your ability, which allows you to bypass conscious thought and execute unconsciously.” Getting to this level of certainty is necessary before you are in hostile territory. It is the “first victory.”
He dispels some myths. Confidence isn’t fixed. You can improve your confidence levels. Confidence isn’t all or nothing, meaning it is heavily situational. You can be confident in one area and not in another. Confidence isn’t something you get once and keep. It takes constant work and effort. Positive feedback and success don’t always give you more confidence. Making mistakes won’t erode your confidence.
Confidence rises and falls like a bank account in every moment. It depends on what you focus on, putting deposits into the account.
Chapter 1: Accepting what you cannot change
You develop inner calmness by accepting four things. First that humans are imperfect, second that the mind and body are connected, third the action of the autonomic nervous system, and fourth the delayed returns of practice. By acknowledging what you can’t change you can be more aware and effective when working with them.
First, the mind and body are connected. He says you need to accept that thoughts and memories control things like your pulse. Conscious thoughts (“This sucks”) affect unconscious emotions (Worry and frustration) which affect physical state (Muscle tension, stress chemicals) which affect execution (Poor memory or physical performance). On the other hand conscious thoughts (“I can do this”) affect unconscious emotions (Confidence and trust) affect physical state (wide vision, low muscle tensions) affect execution (peak performance).
Reframe how you look at tense situations “Let’s see how well I can X right now!” Not “X is really important, I better perform or I’m in trouble!”
“Be curious about your imperfections. They are valuable sources of information.” He says to ask yourself “What is this mistake telling me?”
He talks about the nervous feeling you feel when it is time to perform. He says this is the brain telling your body to pay attention and to get ready to act. It makes you more alert, stronger, faster neurally, and more perceptive. There are down sides like jittery muscles, but the overall benefit can be positive depending on how you frame it. Instead of telling yourself “I am nervous,” tell yourself “I am excited and my body is getting prepared to function at 100%.”
Learning systems take time to build the correct pathways and to develop efficient methods for performance. Be patient with your body as it learns. Success will surface in time.
Chapter 2: Building your bank account #1: Filtering your past for valuable deposits
You can use your memory selectively. Choose to focus on memories that “create energy, optimism, and enthusiasm.” This chapter is all about how to create an effective filter so you only put good deposits into your confidence account. Ask yourself what you are dwelling on.
First think back to your chosen field and think about what you enjoyed about that. Remember the picture of that moment when you were interested or excited. Write down that scene and all the scenes that pop up when you remember it. Those are powerful memories. List the top ten best moments.
Then reflect each day and write down three things for each major episode you can remember. He calls this the daily ESP (Effort, Success, Progress). What did you do that made you feel accomplished, that made you feel like you made progress, that made you feel like you had given good effort? Deposit three memories each day. This encourages you to feel confident more frequently.
You can also stop during the day after you accomplish something and reflect. That will make the end of the day reflection even more powerful. “Thinking about what you want more of is the first step in actually getting more of it… keep looking for the best in yourself drill by drill…”
Chapter 3: Building your bank account #2: Constructive thinking in the present
This chapter talks about what you can do in the present to build your confidence. “This stuff is right up my ally. I’m gonna crush this.” He quotes the idea of a self fulfilling prophecy from a Sociology book. Stop telling yourself you can’t do it. Tell yourself you are going to do well. This is where the comment he mentioned earlier comes into play: do you dare to change the narrative in your brain from negative to positive?
Self affirmation has been shown to positively effect a large array of activities from academic performance to relationships to weight loss to sports. It has also been shown to reduce stress and make people less defensive. Reframe “I don’t get much exercise” into a more helpful thought like “I’m getting regular exercise cleaning fifteen rooms a day.”
Write down affirmations of the key skills you have. For example “I have a fast and accurate shot.” Write them in the present tense and be specific. “I never miss my second serve” isn’t as good as “My second serve hits just inside the line.” Be careful of the word “miss” as it actually backfires here and programs your brain to focus on all the times you missed. Try to use powerful words like explode.
He says to write a few affirmations. One about a quality or skill you want to have. Another about an action that will lead to that skill, and a final one about the outcome you want. Write each affirmation three times before going to bed. Try repeating them each time you go through a doorway.
Chapter 4: Building your bank account #3: Envisioning your ideal future
This chapter is about controlling the pictures and feelings about the future. Envisioning causes actual brain changes and affects entire systems of the body like the digestive and cardio ones. It speeds up the neural pathways.
Make the envisioning as vivid as possible. Feel the textures, hear the sound, visualize the molecules, feel the temperature, take in the surroundings, taste and smell the air. Picture each step and visualize everything in the event leading up to the competition, during the competition, and afterward.
Start with your desired result. Picture where that competition takes place. List moments, obstacles, and encounters on the way through the competition. Picture how you will react. Be very detailed from before the event to during to after. Make sure you practice fixing and overcoming a few problems that are likely to happen. Remember to reframe the negative event and affirm that you are in total control.
Chapter 5: Protecting your confidence every day, no matter what
Chapter five talks about how to deal with negativity, whether it comes from other people attacking you, random negative events, or your own mind.
First you need to restructure the idea as it enters your mind. You need to be able to rationalize how you have failed in the past. He doesn’t mean to deny that something happened. He means find a way to look at it that protects your mental bank account.
Do this by first thinking of an event or mistake as temporary. Remind yourself that it only happened one time. Next think of each mistake or setback as something that is limited to that place and time and situation. Don’t let it expand to taking over your whole day or performance. Finally picture your setbacks and mistakes as things that don’t represent who you are. They are temporary flukes.
Avoid pessimistic thinking which sees things as permanent, pervasive, and personal.
So how do you stop your negative thoughts? First notice them right away. Say to yourself “okay I hear you.” Realize your confidence is under attack and you need to act quickly. Then tell yourself to stop. You can do this mentally or with a rubber band snapping on your wrist. Try screaming stop in your brain. Finally replace the bad thought with a good one. Use the affirmations you made above.
Realize that everyone experiences negative thoughts. Accept that you will have to fight them over and over again. Refuse to give in to that negative voice. Always get the last word.
When bad things happen, use the shooter’s mentality. He uses a basketball player as an example. “In Curry’s highly selective and functionally constructive mind, any missed shot just makes the next shot more likely to go in, rather than bringing on a flurry of worry that he might be in for a frustrating night.” Failure brings you closer to success. Now you know one more way it doesn’t work. “Give me the ball. I wan the shot. I’m due to get one in.”
Chapter 6: Deciding to be different
Decide to think like a winner. “I believe that I’m better than you.” “I will outplay you on that specific play.” “It was meant to come to me.” “I have them thinking about me… Now they have to worry about me and what I am going to do.” “I help the secondary believe in themselves.”
Stop believing the following things. Remembering your failures and mistakes will motivate you to improve. Be your own harshest critic. Always be logical and think carefully about what you are about to do. Keep looking for more knowledge and more information. You need to become really good at a task before you can become really confident. Experts always know best. Don’t ever make mistakes or you will lose your chance.
Chapter 7: Entering the arena with confidence
Here is how you transition into a confident state. First self assess what you have done to prepare. Recall all the little positive things you have done in the past. Second assess the situation and what you need to accomplish. Next stay present and focused on what is unfolding right in front of you. After that you need to know your enemy. Study the things that could go wrong and the opposition. Picture yourself overcoming those situations and attacks. Reframe those setbacks as chances to prove yourself. After that get a wide, high, and birds eye view of the area where you will be performing. Picture yourself succeeding there. Next decide you have enough and don’t allow yourself to switch back into the trouble shooting mindset. Focus on what you can control and play your game.
Chapter 8: Playing a confident game from start to finish
Neuroscience and sports psychology tells us that the brain performs better when all the areas not necessary to performance are shut down. This is focus. This is the zone. This is flow state. Create a preengagement routine that puts you right in the moment with three steps.
Cue your conviction by using a cue word that describes how a successful movement or action works. In sprinting they say “explode out.” In investing they could say “here is my chance.” The statement just needs to reinforce your commitment to winning.
Next breathe through your body to spread the feeling of confidence. Focus on the way it moves through your body.
Finally attach your attention to the present. Do this by focusing on something important like the ball the opposing player is going to hit. Look for important details. Become engrossed and fascinated by that thing.
Chapter 9: Ensuring the next first victory: Reflect, plan, and commit – or What? So What? and Now What?
You need to review what happened to improve and cement what went well. Do this with three questions. What happened? What can you conclude from what happened? Now what are you going to do about it?
Epilogue: The Bus Driver, the general, and you
Be willing to make a conscious choice to change your mind and you have taken a step towards better performance. Faith in good things happening isn’t a gift, it is an undertaking that requires patience and hard work over a long period of time.
Appendix I: Performance imagery script sample
This gives an example of a visualization script you might create for an important task. You would start with a section on confidence building imagery and then move on to very precise and detailed imagery based on the execution of the task.
Appendix II: After action review worksheets
This section asks questions like “what happened,” and “what does that result tell you,” and “what can you do about it,” so you can analyze and improve.
Where Can I Buy This Book?
Check out the best price here.
If you are interested in self improvement, check out our article how to uncover and conquer your deepest fears, or see our article on successful mindsets.